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L-R: Jane Anderson, Jane Schaller, Nicola Burnell & Kim Baker
90 YEARS LATER…The Triumphant Return of Edith Lake Wilkinson's Art to Provincetown
by Nicola Burnell
The opening reception of this historic exhibit at the Larkin Gallery in October was unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Not just because it was the long awaited big reveal of Edith's sun-dappled, inspirational work that had been packed up in trunks for decades, but because it felt like a reunion of old friends.
This night would never have happened had it not been for the incredible response of everyone who heard Edith's story. In the Winter 2013 issue of CWO I published an article by Jane Anderson, Edith's great niece. You can read her article, Packed in a Trunk, to get the sordid background behind this incredible exhibit, and see why so many people were determined to make sure Edith's work was finally shared with the world.
A constant stream of art lovers flowed through the gallery from the moment its doors opened at 7pm until long after they were meant to have closed. A black and white portrait of a smiling Edith sitting on a porch not too far from the gallery captured the triumphant energy of the evening. Her smile was echoed in so many faces as they viewed her work in person, for the very first time.
"Recognition is long overdue, and the large crowd at the exhibit was part of that recognition," says artist Marlene T. Bell. "Her show was well worth the trip, exhibiting both an innocence and personality. The pictures of women and children echo Mary Cassatt, the town paintings, perhaps Matisse. The particular style known as 'mudhead' I recognized, because I had seen it in the work of Leon Gaspard, who worked at a similar period in Provincetown, but later went to Taos."
Poet Kim Baker was moved to tears when she first set eyes on Edith's work.
"When I saw the work in person, I was overjoyed and so moved. I cried at the beauty and elegance of the paintings framed. I had previously seen them only online on the Edith Lake Wilkinson website. To see the paintings as Edith would have seen them, and then to see them on the walls of the gallery, made me feel part of the creative process Edith began but never got to see the journey of, from canvas to frame to exhibit."
Kim had "happily" travelled from Rhode Island for the reception to be part of Edith's first one-woman show. "The idea of a one-woman show in Provincetown was so compelling to me that it turns up in the poem I wrote, Painting in the Latch, inspired by a painting of Edith's.
"Sharing one's creativity is such a sense of communion, of sharing the conversation begun by the work of art with others, who will join the conversation and keep it going," notes Kim. "Edith's conversation with the world was interrupted when her work was packed in trunks and put away. And now, we are blessed to be entering the conversation about life that Edith began."
This conversation will be forever preserved in a documentary film that was being recorded during Edith's opening reception. Edith's niece Jane is an Emmy Award-Winning Writer and Director, and with her film crew Greenie Films 'Team Edith' captured the magic of this sacred moment.
Publisher's Note: This is one of those 'scoops' all publishers dream of – a story that unfolds like a novel, with all the trimmings. It has been a pleasure to watch this story unfold, right here, in the pages of CWO magazine. I hope you enjoy reading about the triumphant return of one artist's work to the place she called 'home'. It was you, dear reader, who helped make this happy ending possible.
THANK YOU for being a part of Edith Lake Wilkinson's incredible journey! Happy Holidays ☺
Even Mr. Napi held court as he discussed the nuances of Edith's work with fellow Edith fans. Earlier in the spring, Team Edith had recorded an interview with Provincetown's reputed art connoisseur over dinner at Napi's Restaurant. It was wonderful to see him supporting Edith's opening night with such enthusiasm.
When Kim was invited to recite her poem, written to Edith's painting called House with Pumpkins, c. 1915, the gallery fell silent. Kim's words filled our hearts as she welcomed Edith home.
"Home is such an important concept to me," Kim reflects. "Edith was taken from the "home" of her physical living space, the "home" of her relationship with Fannie, the "home" of her art work and creative life, the "home" of independence. So bringing her back to Provincetown, to a place she loved and worked and thrived, felt less like righting a wrong and more like accompanying her spirit home."
Jane Anderson became emotional as she thanked everyone for their support of Team Edith's efforts to bring the exhibit to Provincetown. She was realizing a long held dream right before our eyes, and it was beautiful to witness.
The owner of the Larkin Gallery, Stephen Briscoe, was clearly as excited about the show as we all were. "It was a great honor to have been able to host the long hidden work of Edith Lake Wilkinson at Larkin Gallery. Over the many months of planning Edith's return with Jane Anderson and Tess Ayers and "Team Edith" we watched as anticipation grew from the ground up in Provincetown and beyond."
Stephen had had rearranged his entire gallery space to accommodate the many paintings, and even repainted his walls to display Edith's work against a deep green that complimented the colorful palette of the artist.
"In the time since the triumphant opening evening, a steady stream of people interested in both Edith's work and her story have come through the gallery and been moved by the experience," Stephen says. "Finally, and it's so seldom that something like this happens, we've added a wonderful new chapter giving Edith a happier, well-deserved, belated prominence and distinction in Provincetown's fabled art history."
This exhibit captured everything I love about living on Cape Cod – the art, the deep sense of community, and the dedication of women to never give up on a dream.
In her Own Words: Jane Anderson Reflects on Edith's Special Night
It was barely a year ago when I sent out a blind inquiry to Nicola Burnell, the publisher of Cape Women Online magazine, to see if she might be interested in Edith's story. Nicola completely embraced the cause of bringing a lost artist back into the light.
By spreading the word about Edith, Nicola got the attention of a Provincetown gallery owner, Stephen Briscoe, who emailed me with an offer to show Edith's work.
When he sent me a photo of his gallery I thought it looked awfully familiar: Edith had done both a painting and a white line block print of his building, which was a small local market on Commercial Street back in the 20's. The tree in the painting has since grown back its leaves.
The coincidence was quite astounding and I took it as a sign that Edith's return to Provincetown was surely meant to be.
When her show opened on the night of October 11th, 2013, I stood with my spouse Tess, and our documentary team, and watched people pour into the gallery.
It wasn't like your usual gallery opening, where people show up more for the wine than the art, and stand around socializing after a brief glance at the work.
There was, I have to say, a marvelous sense of reverence in the room.
People knew that a justice was being done; that Edith's beautiful art had been rescued from obscurity and she was being reinstated to the artistic history of the town.
Our documentary team has now landed back in L.A. to start assembling the footage that we shot of Edith's homecoming. I can't tell you how grateful we all are to Nicola, Stephen and all the lovers of art on the Cape, who have welcomed Edith back.
Here's to being seen!
Photographs courtesy of Nicola Burnell
This is a three-minute trailer of the upcoming documentary film that will celebrate the long-buried talent of the painter Edith Lake Wilkinson, who was part of the Provincetown art scene in the early 20th century, and produced an astounding body of work.
Nicola Burnell is the Publisher, Editor and a contributing writer for this magazine. In addition to writing her own novels, she teaches a series of Writing, Creativity Development and Personal Growth Classes. She also works as a freelance editor and a Booktrope Publishing Book Manager.
Nicola is a member in Letters of the National League of American Pen Women and is Historian of the Cape Cod Branch.
She strives to support the Arts on Cape Cod and collaborates with several cultural organizations in her community.
Nicola lives in Harwich with her two sons and several pets.